Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
The Psalms are hardly ever characterized merely by abstract doctrinal truth but are most often saturated with human emotion and experience. They often intimately describe the struggle of the Psalmist’s soul, baring his heart to God, the reader, and even to himself. As such, Psalms have proven to be a great source of encouragement and solace for God’s people, when approached honestly.
Read Psalm 42 in its entirety, and it will become clear that you will scarcely find a better description of a depressed individual. Psalm 42 describes a soul that is in an unhappy condition – what Martyn Lloyd-Jones refers to as “spiritual depression” in his classic work, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure (© 1965 Eerdmans). Jones observes: It is interesting to notice the frequency with which this particular theme is dealt with in the Scriptures and the only conclusion to be drawn from that is that it is a very common condition. … it seems in many ways to be the peculiar trouble with many of God’s people … whatever the reason, the fact remains that there are large numbers of Christian people who give the impression of being unhappy. They are cast down, their souls are ‘disquieted within them.’”
What are the causes of spiritual depression? Certain personality types lend themselves to a greater tendency for spiritual depression. For example, the introspective person who is always looking within, analyzing everything he does, worrying about the repercussions of his actions, always full of regret, is at great risk of suffering spiritual depression. Those with chronic physical afflictions are also vulnerable. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, suffered from spiritual depression as he battled an agonizing physical affliction. In addition, the devil will oppress people to present Christians as a depressed and pathetic people who have no reason to be happy.
A depressed Christian may seem like a contradiction of terms, as the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit is joy, which intuitively ought to overthrow depression. But a spiritually depressed Christian is real. While depression does not disqualify one from being a true Christian, depressed Christians are, however, missing out on a great deal and are very poor examples of the efficacy of the Gospel in the human life. Psalm 42 contains the remedy to begin to combat spiritual depression in verse 5 (repeated in verse 11). It begins by preaching to oneself: what business is it of yours to be downcast? Instead of being depressed, hope in God! Do you not remember who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do for you? Is He not my Helper and Rock of my salvation? Why so downcast, O my soul, put your hope in God!